Here are the top ten predictions for 2017 in the World of Food. Chiefly, it will become more contextual–You’ll hear less talk of how things taste and who’s cooking what. You’ll hear more talk of the money and thinking that go into food.
1. MORE CHEAP FOOD. As restaurants in major U.S. cities face rising rents from landlords and equity funds which own them, both eager to raise more money to invest in a blistering hot stock market, chefs will open places that serve inexpensive food. The trend has already started in Cambridge, Massachusetts with new bakeries; and, in NYC, top chefs like Daniel Humm are opening restaurants where most items are under $20. Expect to see lots more pizza, noodles, and bagels.
2. MORE MONEY WILL GO INTO MARKETING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS. Word of mouth is fine, but to survive in the restaurant world today, you need a massive marketing team. Union Hospitality Group, for example, the company that manages “Shake Shack” for the Leonard Green Equity Fund, which is the majority stockholder in that fast food, burger franchise, has dozens of ex-English majors shilling for them. A restaurant that hopes to capture market share is going to need to invest heavily in public relations, which costs thousands per month. A big part of the profit from the cheap food (see Trend #1), will go into this.
3. FREE FOOD. Marketing is going to ID the food bloggers with the most traffic and invite them in for free food. The bloggers will, in turn, write glowingly about the food. “The food always tastes better when it’s free,” said a well-known restaurateur.
4. BYE-BYE RED MEAT. The best restaurants will stop pushing pork and beef. It’s not difficult to cook high fat foods, it’s bad for your heart and the environment, and it shows the paucity of a chef’s imagination.
5. MORE VEGETABLES. The best chefs and those with the deepest pockets eat lots of vegetables. These require skill to cook. You feel better with a diet that’s got lots of vegetables.
6. DECLINE IN COOKBOOK SALES. With the Internet, who needs another cookbook to clutter the kitchen? Look up the recipe for anything you want to cook. It’s there online.
7. PROFIT AND FOOD: THE CONNECTION. More people will start to see the connection between what they buy to eat and how the world is shaped. If you’re against banks and private equity diminishing democracy, find out who owns which restaurants, and stop patronizing them. It’s not just the major names: You might be surprised to see who makes up the major investors in restaurants.
8. FRANCHISES. The days of the one chef-one restaurant are over in the United States. It was fun, you can still find these places in other countries. But to survive here, a chef needs to be a businessperson or in business with someone who knows about business. The few remaining single chef-single restaurants left will either be gone by 2020 or they will be made part of a larger business. In Philadelphia, Vetri is now owned by Urban Outfitters. In Boston, Tatte Bakery is owned by Panera. You’ll see lots more of this happening. The chef who doesn’t sell or expand the business? Gone.
9. VIOLENCE. I’m sorry to say, but 2017 will see an increase in violent acts in restaurants. You’ll see increased security in places, private and hidden clubs replacing public dining, and a decline in sales.
10. STORYTELLING. Restaurants will increasingly see the value of telling a story about themselves. Customers don’t just want to eat food, they want to experience being part of what amounts to a cultural experience.